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Dragon Age: the first eight hours

It’s been a busy post-release 24 hours for Dragon Age: Origins. There’s a 1.01 patch which apparently smooths out some potentially game-stopping difficulty-spikes. The free Dragon Age toolset v1 (full-blown construction kit and cutscene animator for modders) has been released. There’s even a wiki or two. Doubtless mod lists will start to appear in the coming week.

DAOrigins 2009-11-06 16-27-23-83

It’s been a little busy for me too. I’ve sunk about eight hours into the game, and completed the first four main acts (which when playing as a human is: your home castle; at the ruins of Ostagar; into the wilds; return and initiation) — and they’re all basically one big drawn-out tutorial.

What’s I liked (so far):

   * The voice-acting is excellent and consistent, and thankfully there’s no mixing of British and American accents. It’s all British accents, as far as I can tell, so far. The sound design is also solid.

   * The story is deep, believable, and well-constructed. The characters are all distinctive and subtly conveyed.

   * Cut-scene facial animations and lip-syncing are generally believable enough. The dialogue that’s delivered isn’t too hammy.

   * It’s fun, and occasionally has a decent sense of humour.

   * It has a giant pet war-dog (called Fluffweed in my copy).

   * The lore and back-stories are outstanding.

   * The frame-rate is excellent, and the game plays smoothly.

   * There are no huge roadblocks in terms of learning the initial controls

   * A workmanlike and practical user-interface

What’s disappointing (so far):

   * There is no feeling of awe at the beauty of a finely-crafted world environment operating around you in real-time, as there is with Morrowind/Oblivion. Instead you’re strolling through a succession of generic stage-sets (castle, ruin, marsh) as part of a very well-acted stage play, rather than being a part of a living world. Plot and dialogue seems to be everything in DA.

   * So far, “Easy” mode seems far too easy — although one review did mention something about a huge difficulty-spike about nine hours into the game, so I’ll stick with it for now.

   * It has camera controls that are clunky and often distracting. It looks best in old-school isometric mode, but then characters are difficult to distinguish and enemies can’t be seen even if they’re in plain sight just fifty yards ahead.

   * In its early stages DA is obviously linear and “on rails”, much like Mass Effect was. Perhaps there are a few larger environments later.

   * It’s an RPG — and yet it feels as though there’s very little scope to actually develop a distinctive role-play character in terms of actions and manner as well as looks. Just as with Mass Effect, you feel you’re getting much the same end results from making an angry/flippant or a polite response. It feels like an ersatz RPG, rather than the real thing.

   * Meaningful fantasy requires a real sense of ‘the fantastic’ and ‘the uncanny’. I really haven’t seen any of that so far. One potentially eerie early key encounter with a chest of ancient documents, and a witch and her daughter, was presented in a laughably plain manner.

   * It all feels like one more rip-off of The Lord of the Rings, albeit one where some fine writers have managed to juggle some freshness into a stale scenario. Several times I found myself thinking that only the lack of hobbits would be preventing the Tolkien estate from suing Bioware.

   * The graphics have generally been a big disappointment, even at 1920 x 1200 with all eye-candy at maximum and the Nvidia Control Panel forcing 16x anti-aliasing. There are a few nice moments, but it’s not a patch on something like The Witcher: Extended on the PC. Compare “the wilds” marshland in DA to a very similar environment in The Witcher, for instance. There’s just no comparison in terms of quality…

DAOrigins 2009-11-07 21-35-46-40
The marshy wilds in Dragon Age.

witcher 2009-07-20 05-42-31-91
The marshland in The Witcher.

DAOrigins 2009-11-06 19-04-49-30
Interior in Dragon Age.

witcher 2009-07-09 16-12-42-90
Interior in The Witcher.

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